The Clippers shouldn’t have made it here. On paper, they looked like the sort of team that would fight hard but fall short of the playoffs. But even after trading their best player at the trade deadline for the second straight year, the Clippers won 48 games, earned the 8-seed in the West, and even took two games from Golden State. The players may have changed, but the team’s identity—self-aware and scrappy—fueled its season until it hit the Warriors wall. All things considered, Friday’s Game 6 loss was an admirable place for their season to end.
So what’s next? Here are three questions facing the Clippers as they head into an offseason they hope could set them up for much longer postseason runs in the not-too-distant future:
Can the Clippers Cash in on Their Free Agency Hopes?
The Clippers will be able to free up cap space for two max free agents this summer, and they’ve been linked to Kawhi Leonard all season long. Leonard, of course, is still playing in Toronto, where the Raptors are hoping he can lead them to the Finals and maybe stick around long term. By all accounts, Los Angeles seems to have the upper hand, but he’s not the only free agent the Clippers will be going after. Los Angeles will likely try to sign everyone from Kevin Durant to Kyrie Irving to Kemba Walker. But Durant is the crown jewel of the class, and while the Clips can’t offer him the big stage of New York, they can offer a stable franchise that is better positioned to win than, say, a team that finished dead last in the NBA this season. It’s a tall task, but one that the team’s front office has been preparing for; they sold high on Tobias Harris in the middle of the season ostensibly because they have bigger goals in mind.
The Clippers have established themselves as an appealing option: They have a promising group of young players, led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Landry Shamet, an experienced coach in Doc Rivers, stable ownership, and the ability to pair one superstar with another. Of course, the first step is getting one.
Will the Clippers Bring Back Patrick Beverley?
Any Clippers player or coach will tell you that Beverley, the overlooked, undersized pitbull, best represents the team’s identity. But he is a free agent this offseason, too, and the Clippers, as stated above, have their eyes set on bigger prizes. Beverley made $5 million this season and will likely command not just more money, but a longer deal—and, given he will turn 31 this summer, he’ll presumably be looking to cash in on one last time.
Losing Beverley would mean a whole lot more than losing his 7.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game; his spirit has been more important than any advanced stat. But the Clippers don’t plan on being underdogs next season. The Clippers should keep Beverley, but the question is will he wait around while the Clips chase stars, or will he jump at another offer?
Can the Clippers Get Into the Anthony Davis Sweepstakes?
This is the NBA offseason’s third rail, so let’s take it one step at a time. Imagine if the Clippers were to sign Leonard and Durant, or just one of the two, and then decide to maximize their window even more by packaging the rest of their assets for Anthony Davis. It may be more likely than you think.
After the Lakers whiffed on forcing a Davis deal at the trade deadline, the sweepstakes now feel wide open. The Clippers’ offer—which would probably have to include Gilgeous-Alexander, Shamet, Danilo Gallinari’s expiring contract, multiple first-rounders, and probably a couple more assets—is good, but it doesn’t feature an elite prospect like the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum. Of course, Boston also has to worry about keeping its own big free agent, Kyrie Irving. Would the Celtics offer Tatum to the Pelicans without the assurance that Davis will stay there long term? These are all relevant questions for the Clippers, and so you shouldn’t be surprised if you hear them on the fringes of the Davis talks in the next few months. There’s still the possibility that Davis or his camp will play hardball and say they will re-sign with only one or two specific teams. However, If basketball is atop his priority list, it will be hard to ignore the Clippers.
The regular season was fun, but now is the Clippers’ time to shine.